Assessing Pinterest for UK Marketers: Do We Really Need to Care?

Richard Marriott 10 years ago

This is a guest post from James Carson, Digital Marketing Manager at Bauer Media.

Apart from Apple products, I’ve never seen anything on the web hyped up quite like Pinterest. Google+ received scores of complimentary blog posts upon its launch, but the party was short lived. Pinterest, while cloned many times over, doesn’t have a hulking rival to calm the hype.

Will the Rise of the Photo Apps Kill the Written Word? asked Ekaterina Walter on Convince and Convert. Since writing has been around for 5,000 years, and has dismissed a wide range of apparent ‘challenges’ I could only conclude ‘no’, but articles like these sum up the incredible hype that this rather simple social network has received.

According to Tech Crunch, Pinterest hit 10 million US monthly uniques faster than any standalone site ever. That is a fairly impressive statistic, but on its own doesn’t really give any indication of why I should care. Indeed, should marketers really get too bothered about it in the UK?

Audience Growth is Not Audience Size

Before embarking on a social media strategy using any service, I’ll first ask whether or not the service has a good audience fit for a brand I’m working on – there’s a good post by Ciarin Norris about this: Consumers and Content Still Central in Social Media.

Rapid growth on Pinterest’s scale is a sure way to get a lot of hype, but the strongest tech sites, such as Mashable and Tech Crunch have a clear US bias. In the UK we must remember that hype from these titles doesn’t really help us – the audience size relevant to us will be extremely different from ’10 million US unique users’ they are keen to point out.

A recent post on Econsultancy used an infographic (which has done the rounds on several other blogs) created from Google’s Doubleclick Ad Planner data, to find that there were 200,000 unique visitors to the site in December. According to the same source, there were 320,000 unique visitors in February, giving the site a reach of 0.6% population. Ad Planner also indicates that there 57% of the audience are male, bucking the trend of predominantly female usage of the site in the US.

One particularly interesting facet of the data from Ad Planner is that ‘Sites also visited’ include:

Evidently, digital marketers are getting involved with the site in large numbers!

I wouldn’t use Ad Planner myself for doing an accurate audience profile. Instead I’d choose Nielsen, which is currently the UKOM standard for advertisers. Unique audience data for December was at 164,000 (204,000 January), but the most conflicting stat is that the dominant gender using the service is indeed women, being 70% of the audience (65% January). I would trust this data rather more, particularly with Ad Planner’s ‘sites also visited’ in mind.

You need to ask yourself then – is a reach of c.240,000 (c.68% women) a good audience fit for my site or marketing strategy?

Social Assessment Criteria

Further to the crucial audience question, I’ll also ask how the service can be measured by the following criteria – almost all of which are related to the first:

  • SEO value
  • Traffic referrals
  • Fan “engagement” (measured by comments, retweets etc dependent on network)
  • Referrals to product purchase conversion rate
  • Viability of integration into wider social strategy

Following these criteria, we can assess the site’s usefulness vs. other key social networks – particularly Facebook and Twitter.

SEO Value

Pinterest stil allows ‘pinners’ to link to websites with a “dofollow” link. The images themselves recently implemented rel=”nofollow”, but you can still place links in the description. This is of high value, but it will almost certainly be changed in the long term – social media has to fight spam, and nofollows is (sometimes unfortunately) the best solution. If you want to give pages a short boost, Pinterest is still an option – this explains the high referral rates from numerous SEO agencies.

Traffic Referral

Further SEO value on Facebook / Twitter can be gained from building up a following, and then trading off referral links to partners in exchange for partner links. I call this ‘social spurting’. However, with an audience of approximately 250,000 in the UK it is unlikely that pinners will be able to send the amount of traffic required for this.

In January Shareaholic reported that Pinterest Drives More Traffic Than Google Plus, YouTube and LinkedIn Combined, while last month Mashable reported Pinterest becomes top traffic driver for women’s magazines, which got an astonishing 4,000 social shares.

Google Plus, YouTube and LinkedIn have never been significant traffic drivers to websites – so the Shareholic article doesn’t really come as much of a surprise. Meanwhile, the Mashable article points out that Pinterest is driving more referral traffic to, than Twitter and Facebook combined. But look at the following statistics:

That gives the Martha Stewart brand a total reach on the two largest social networks at 2,937,000. On Pinterest, there are three profiles that can be identified as similar to the ones above:

With this in mind, it seems incredibly unlikely that Pinterest is driving more traffic to the two mentioned websites than Facebook and Twitter combined. Indeed, if it was, there is something going seriously wrong with Martha Stewart’s ability to drive traffic from the two most popular social networks. For a start, Martha Stewart on Twitter could probably drive 50,000 referrals to her website in just a couple of links. Alas, Mashable also don’t disclose where they found their data.

Of course, Pinterest traffic isn’t only driven through official profiles; it’s also driven by the community through other people pinning images and repining. However, even then it would be a struggle to surpass Facebook and Twitter for traffic referral – the scale just isn’t really there. Facebook’s audience in the UK is 26,000,000. If you’re really referring more people from Pinterest than you are from Facebook, then I’d seriously recommend you rethink your social strategy.


One interesting part of Pinterest’s rapid rise is its apparently strong user engagement. ComScore data shows that the average user spends 89 minutes per month on Pinterest, which is significantly higher than Twitter (21 minutes), yet far lower than Facebook, which is at 405 minutes.

While this is good news for Pinterest itself, it’s not so good for those wanting to use Pinterest as a marketing platform. The longer spent on the network suggests the less reason to ‘click off’ to somewhere else. While many users of Twitter have very low engagement, even big users of the network click off quickly, since many are there with the primary intent of finding news.

Two other metrics for measuring fan engagement would be in the number of repins pins uploaded or placed received, or in the number of times images from your website have been pinned. While these are measurable, and you could compare them to other engagement metrics such as brand mentions or retweets, it is best to consider these in the context of the network where they come from.

Overall, the only way to understand fan engagement from Pinterest to your brand is to start posting something on there and see how people interact. Average stats make little sense, since it differs wildly from vertical and strategy execution.

Referrals to Product Purchase Conversion Rate

Pinterest is fairly unique in the social networking world in that users are showing clear interest in products on their pinboards. Indeed, this has led many to consider it to be a game changer in social commerce, particularly in the wake of Facebook retailers shutting their stores.

Forbes, which seems to be a regular for sensational tech headlines, outlined Why Pinterest Trumps Facebook at Social Commerce For Now; apparently selling on Facebook ‘is like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.’ Meanwhile ‘Pinterest isn’t a bar. It’s more like a craft fair where people go to exhibit their wares, check out other vendors’ offerings, or do a bit of both.’

Unfortunately the Forbes post fails to back up its claims with any data, and also fails to comprehend the scale of Facebook when it comes to selling. An article on Moneycontrol does rather better in pointing out how it benefits small business, with one artist crediting it for amplifying his online sales to 50% of his current business. At best, this seems small scale – if Pinterest is indeed a craft fair, then it seems like a good place for craft sellers to be on there.

But what if, like most companies, you sell products outside the world of good looking gifts or fashion? The data is unlikely to be forthcoming, so again a period of experimentation to gather data would be useful to see if Pinterest works for your brand. There’s a pretty useful BBC article on which verticals are a good fit: Pinterest: Just what exactly is on it?

Viability of Integration into Social Strategy

I would usually advocate the use of the big three social networks in a social networking strategy before anything else:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube

Anything beyond that should be seen as supplementary, unless you have strong dedicated resources in social media (few do), or if you have a particularly niche audience. However, if a network is easy to integrate into your social strategy, then it could be one to experiment with.

Pinterest can’t be taken care of through using a social publishing tool such as Hootsuite, but it is rather easy to pin images due to the use of a bookmarklet. It is also simple to manage boards and link them back to your site. Indeed, I do feel it could be integrated into an editor’s publishing practices relatively painlessly.

If you use WordPress, then developers Alex Moss and Shane Jones have recently developed the Pinterest Image Pin for WordPress plugin which can help users do the pinning for you – perfect for a blog with particularly rich imagery.

Copyright Issues

One key issue in the viability of the network is in its somewhat dubious copyright guidelines. Will Critchlow has recently pointed out that Pinterest has a massive gap between its terms and its marketing.

  • Its terms of use require you to be either the sole and exclusive owner of content, or that you have all rights over the images you pin.
  • The about page says ‘Pinterest lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.’ Unfortunately, the terms and conditions of Pinterest do make its viability dubious in respect to copyright law.

It is possible for copyright holders to simply allow users to pin their photos. Indeed, it may be beneficial to even encourage it through having a call to action or the aforementioned plugin. But not all will want to do this. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds – because it could cause Pinterest serious growing pains.

Overall: Should Marketers Use Pinterest?

Here are the key observations from this post:

  • Pinterest’s UK audience is very small in comparison to the ‘big three’ social networks.
  • Similar to the US, more women are using the network than men.
  • Pin descriptions still provides dofollow links, so are of value for SEO.
  • Pinterest’s ability to refer traffic has been over estimated on many sites – the Mashable data is dubious. Facebook and Twitter should still drive far more traffic if used correctly.
  • While Pinterest has high engagement metrics for time on site, this is of little value for third party business objectives.
  • Pinterest has an interesting proposition for e-commerce sites with good images. However, there is little data available to suggest it drives actual sales.
  • Pinterest profiles are low cost in terms of resource to maintain
  • There are copyright concerns around use of images. You should only pin your own images if using for business. Repining is fine.

With this in mind, Pinterest should be used for experimentation for the time being – it should not be at the core of your social strategy or the focus of your attention unless you are a niche product with a good audience match. You are more likely to get bigger gains by focusing your efforts on the big three networks.

Will it get bigger? It almost certainly will, but it will take a considerable period of time for it to be near the value of the big three.

We hope you enjoyed reading this blog, it was written by Simon Penson, Founder and Managing Director of Zazzle Media.

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